Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Johnson must act now

I don't feel qualified to write about Coronavirus particularly, but then we are in somewhat unprecedented territory. We've seen scares come and go but this one looks like the real deal. We're not used to having to react to serious threats in this way and it has caught us off guard. We have local contingency planning for unspecified outbreaks and council staff are periodically drilled for this sort of thing, but much of it is useless, dated or simply too late.

We don't know much about the virus itself. It could inexplicably vanish as quickly as it arrived but then it could linger on for months. All we do know is that it if becomes as serious as we have seen in Italy, and there's every reason to believe it will, then our health services will be at the limits of their capacity and capabilities. Italian services are working on a triage basis already.

One would have thought, then, that the priority would be to slow the spread - which is no easy feat. There are a litany of considerations where we can only take our best guess. Disease control is as much a matter for behavioural science as it is epidemiology and connected disciplines. We then have the wildcard of the internet which can either help or exacerbate. We have no incontestable expertise.

But then there are some aspects of disease control that are not rocket science. Places such as classrooms, offices, buses, trains and aeroplanes where air circulation is poor and hygiene standards generally low, really ought to be restricted. There are no real defences. Between keyboards, phones, light switches, doors, handrails, taps, crockery, kettles, coffee jars, supermarket trolleys/baskets, groceries, petrol pumps, PIN pads etc, there are multiple points of infection in the working day that are impractical, nay impossible, to avoid.

If the government was serious about slowing the spread and buying time they would be issuing advice accordingly. Instead institutions are left to their own devices, where it becomes the judgement call of bosses. If this humble blogger manages to catch it out here in the vale of York, it'll be down to my partner's employer not shutting up shop. Put simply, it's up to the British public to choose. We can't expect leadership or decisiveness from government. Especially not this one.

There are, of course, complications where it is argued that our response has to be timed for the greatest effect but this is based on modelling and guesswork. It's a huge gamble. Given the lethality of the virus, my preference is to act sooner. If it follows the spread in Italy, and the data suggests it will, then we need to minimise the impact on health services as best we can as soon as we can. History will not look kindly on a PM who dithered in the face of a pandemic.

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